Coronavirus has changed our sense of place, so together we must re-imagine our cities


Tony Matthews, Griffith University

Is it time to re-imagine our fundamental relationship with cities?

People bring cities to life. They interact, work, socialise and travel. Without this, cities are just collections of buildings and infrastructure.

This relationship is now on hiatus all over the world. The COVID-19 pandemic left thousands of cities empty, eerie and listless.




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We connect to cities by developing a “sense of place”. The concept describes how we perceive and attach to places through use. Our connection with cities changes over time but is always grounded in sense of place.

COVID-19 is fundamentally disrupting sense of place. It is causing transformative change in cities all over the world. Daily parts of city life, like shared seating, busy trains and eating out, have suddenly become threatening.

Many urban dwellers are redefining their sense of place in response. We may not view our cities the same way after this pandemic. Our perceptions and priorities may change, perhaps permanently.

As we start planning for cities after this pandemic, we should recognise this task is as much philosophical as practical.




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Transforming the present

It is useful to consider what exactly the COVID-19 pandemic represents for cities and why it can change people’s sense of place so profoundly.

Mary Street, Brisbane, during the lockdown.
Kgbo/Wikemedia Commons, CC BY-SA

The pandemic impacts are so severe it can be classified as a “transformative stressor”. These rare events cause severe and intense social, environmental and economic impacts. They are felt at every level of society and throughout social institutions.

Profound shocks are felt all at once in economic activity, human health and social order. Impacts occur at all scales. Almost everybody endures multiple forms of disruption.

Transformative stressors can be unforgiving in exposing problems and weaknesses in systems. They can be catastrophic in cities because so many systems are integrated, creating multiple points of impact.

COVID-19 also fits the transformative stressor model because it might not be possible to fully manage it. Recovery planning needs to account for the possibility COVID-19 might never disappear. It could become an ongoing risk of city life.

What was a distant worry becomes an immediate threat when a transformative stressor hits a city. Things that were once reliable and comfortable no longer are. Our behaviour changes in response, causing us to reconsider our sense of place over time.

How does sense of place change when the familiar becomes sinister?
Tony Matthews, Author provided



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Cities will endure, but urban design must adapt to coronavirus risks and fears


Co-creating the future

The transformative impacts of this pandemic are upending established norms. But policy innovation can flourish at times like this. Transformative stressors give policymakers unique opportunities to work outside their normal methods.

People have stoically endured lockdowns in many countries. Working from home with limited mobility will further prompt many to re-evaluate their sense of place. Many people will want a big say in the fundamental decisions to be made on the future of their cities after this.




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If more of us work from home after coronavirus we’ll need to rethink city planning


As they seek innovative ways to help cities recover, planners can learn important lessons by consulting urban residents. Online co-creation processes and workshops are excellent tools for gathering the people’s thoughts and aspirations at this unique time.

Participating in workshops can also help residents redefine their sense of place in cities disrupted by COVID-19. They can describe how the crisis changed their perceptions and use of space. This allows them to redefine their sense of place by considering the future with full acknowledgement of the past.

Residents are engaging more closely with their own neighbourhoods at the moment. This allows them to reconsider their local sense of place. New trends will be revealed through engagement with the public, reflecting changes in their sense of place.

At minimum, there is likely to be more community interest in improving active transport options. Many people have been reminded of the pleasures of walking and cycling. Other new priorities may be more green space and better social infrastructure.




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On the other hand, enthusiasm for public transport might fall and car ownership rates could rise.

Plenty of parking spaces at this suburban train station. Will we be comfortable taking public transport after lockdowns end?
Tony Matthews

The road ahead

The transformative impacts of this pandemic prompt fundamental questions. Do people have the same enthusiasm for city living? Is it time for new urban realities? What would new realities look like? How would they be achieved?

These are extraordinary times that call for extraordinary responses. It is not a time for planners and policymakers to plan for people; it is a time to plan with people.

Many innovations in urban planning are founded in efforts to improve human health. COVID-19 will undoubtedly prompt a new round of thinking about how cities can be re-imagined. It will be a big adjustment for urban planning, which has traditionally relied on the relative predictability of how people use space.

People’s perception and attachment to places is changing, perhaps forever. Decisions on where to go from here will be better made if planners understand how people are redefining their sense of place in this time of profound upheaval.




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The Conversation


Tony Matthews, Senior Lecturer in Urban and Environmental Planning, Griffith University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why coronavirus must not stop Australia creating denser cities



Abdul Razak Latif/Shutterstock

Max Holleran, University of Melbourne

Stay-at-home orders have meant many people are happy to live in dispersed suburbs with free-standing, single-family homes. Quarantine feels less daunting with a backyard, plenty of storage space to stockpile supplies, and a big living room for morning stretches. Before the crisis, though, Australia was slowly moving toward urban density.

More apartments with communal amenities, rather than privatised space, were being built, creating less dependence on driving. It is easy to think these urbanites are now glumly looking out their windows towards the more spacious suburbs, wishing they had made different choices. Yet, despite the impacts of restrictions, Australia’s future is in urban density and not the suburban sprawl of the past.




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The benefits of density done well

Before the world changed and Australians were ushered inside en masse, the country was making great strides toward creating more compact, walkable cities. Denser neighbourhoods provided multiple benefits:

  • better access to transport alternatives to cars

  • the creation of vibrant commercial districts

  • increased ability to house more people during affordability and homelessness crises.




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Nationally, we were building almost as many apartment units as single family homes. In cities like Melbourne and Sydney, apartment construction even surpassed stand-alone houses despite lax quality regulations and design and construction flaws.

Density was achieved not just through towers for Asian investors in CBDs, but more subtle alterations such as townhouses and small blocks of flats. Residents moving into these neighbourhoods affirmed a sense of environmental consciousness, based on driving less, but also the belief in tight-knit communities with small businesses, parks and thriving street life.

Townhouses, like these in Hobart, increase urban density more unobtrusively than high-rise apartment blocks.
David Lade/Shutterstock



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Beware the siren call of suburbia

With the onset of COVID-19, it seems Australia’s new-found love of city living might be over, reverting to the suburban norm. The suburbs always offered a sense of safety, now more than ever.

Yet much of this is illusory. People still have to go shopping and, in many cases, to work, where they could be exposed to the virus. People have just as much control over their physical space in an apartment as in a house. (The exception is the lifts, but distancing measures and gloves can easily reduce risk.)

Australians may be tempted to re-embrace suburbia out of nostalgia for pre-virus safety, but they should remember what brought them to cities in the first place. As the architect Robin Boyd bemoaned way back in his 1960 critique of suburbanisation, The Australian Ugliness:

… the suburbs’ stealthy crawl like dry rot eating into the forest edge.

With 60 years of government policy propping up sprawl through freeway construction and tax breaks like negative gearing, it continues to be its own kind of infection scarring the landscape.




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Don’t blame public health failures on density

Despite re-animated fears of living closer together, many countries that have successfully contained the coronavirus have some of the most densely populated cities in the world. These cities include Seoul, Hong Kong and Taipei. They have done this not by separating people but by increasing testing and contact tracing.




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What is needed during a pandemic is not panic but effective public health. Prosperous, well-managed city governments are often best placed to offer these services to the community.

Negative examples like the United States, where the Trump administration has devolved responsibilities to states and cities, provide even more proof of why cities have to be at the forefront of public health campaigns, whether or not they choose that role voluntarily. The same could be said of Australia, where state governments in Victoria and New South Wales took the lead on restricting gatherings as the national government dithered.

Now, more than ever, we are appreciating urban life from afar: making lists of our favourite restaurants, changing our Zoom background during “virtual happy hour” to the interior of our local pub, and yearning for social connections that have migrated online.

We should listen to our desires and use this moment to double down on urban density when the crisis subsides, by funding mass transit and providing incentives to construct apartments rather than free-standing suburban homes.

Low-density living is less sustainable, less affordable and less fun. We should all remember that, despite currently having to keep our distance from one another.




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Our cities fall short on sustainability, but planning innovations offer local solutions


The Conversation


Max Holleran, Lecturer in Sociology, University of Melbourne, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

So coronavirus will change cities – will that include slums?



Aditya Kabir/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

David Sanderson, UNSW

Many commentators have speculated on how the coronavirus pandemic will alter cities and the ways they are planned and used. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has tweeted: “There is a density level in NYC that is destructive […] NYC must develop an immediate plan to reduce density.”

Articles about disease and cities have reported on how past pandemics led to civic improvements, such as public health pioneer John Snow’s use of cholera maps, an early form of health-data gathering, to combat cholera in 19th-century London.

But these stories relate to cities in richer countries, which have enough funding and the political will to make changes. It’s hard to see how the COVID-19 pandemic will lead to any better outcomes for the close to a billion or so people who live in fast-growing, low-income, informal settlements, or slums, that cram cities throughout Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Pacific. These settlements are some of the densest and most poorly serviced places on Earth.




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Density, the good and the bad

Despite Cuomo’s statement, density for cities is good on the whole. The world’s population is rocketing, with most of this growth happening in cities. Where else would we put all these people?

Density is good for innovation, socialising, economies of scale, fuel efficiency and economic growth. Density, though, is good only when managed and planned. New York’s governor may have a point if he was talking about de-densifying slums in Dhaka, Cali or Freetown. Slum density can be grim.

In these dense settlements, heat stifles, ventilation is rare, light is sparse and families share one room and basic services (thereby worsening the spread of respiratory disease). Density that prevents fire trucks reaching fires, or that lacks adequate drainage, sanitation or piped water supply, is not good.

Health services in cities across the world have ramped up in anticipation of the inundation of coronavirus patients. This has been based on modelling of health data across respective populations, much as Snow did for London. Combined with lockdown and other social distancing measures, there is evidence this has so far mostly worked well (though not a cause for relaxing).

Health risks in slums, however, have been awful for decades. We have little data on the health of slum dwellers, and health care is often out of reach for those who are sick. The paltry numbers of ventilators in African countries attest to the shortage of equipment and support – what chance if you’re poor?




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Disasters come and go for slum dwellers

Will coronavirus have a lasting impact on urban planning and how we use cities? Perhaps.

Businesses might be asking why they spend so much on office space when employees have shown they can work from home. Many hitherto-polluted cities have enjoyed much cleaner air during lockdowns. Several European cities are considering lasting zoning regulations to reserve streets for cyclists.




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But again, for people living in slums, it may well be business as usual. The coronavirus will be just one more tragedy for many who live in slums.

Take the Ebola outbreak of 2014-16, which killed over 11,000 people across Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Dense, poorly serviced slums with people living cheek by jowl were particular hotspots. Ebola had devastating impacts on economies, lives and health-care systems.

Yet evidence of post-Ebola improvements in urban planning are hard to find. When three-quarters of a country’s urban population, such as Sierra Leone’s, live in slums and confront other pressing matters of poverty and recent conflict, de-densifying and replanning slums equates to nirvana, at least in the short term.

Residents of Freetown in Sierra Leone have no reason to believe this pandemic will lead to any more improvements than previous disasters did.
Slum Dwellers International/Flickr, CC BY



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Skin in the game

As the coronavirus pandemic has shown, self-preservation is a great incentive to action. Lockdown requires individuals to consent for it to work.

Post-disease urban improvements also correlate to self-interest. London’s infamous “Great Stink” of 1858 of untreated sewage floating in the Thames led to the world’s largest sewer system. But it only happened once the smell reached the House of Commons. Something had to be done!

Unlike the Great Stink, which didn’t waft further than the capital, the coronavirus is a global concern. The world has shown it can mobilise resources as never before to tackle a threat.

Now is the time to add slum improvements to our post-pandemic agenda. The need is great – the number of people living in slums may double to 2 billion by 2050. Given the world community’s demonstrated indifference to such places, even the confronting experience of COVID-19 might not be enough to lead to improvements.The Conversation

David Sanderson, Professor and Inaugural Judith Neilson Chair in Architecture, UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Cities will endure, but urban design must adapt to coronavirus risks and fears



Public spaces must now meet our need to be ‘together but apart’.
Silvia Tavares, Author provided

Silvia Tavares, University of the Sunshine Coast and Nicholas Stevens, University of the Sunshine Coast

The long-term impacts of coronavirus on our cities are difficult to predict, but one thing is certain: cities won’t die. Diseases have been hugely influential in shaping our cities, history shows. Cities represent continuity regardless of crises – they endure, adapt and grow.




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Once we can have our old lives back we will likely return to familiar routines and our memories of lockdown and isolation will start to fade. While our lack of memory is arguably a resiliency resource, urban designers and planners have a long-term role in ensuring urban life is healthy. To fight infectious diseases, cities need well-ventilated urban spaces with good access to sunlight.

The design of these spaces, and public open spaces in particular, promotes different levels of sociability. Some spaces congregate community and are highly social. Others may act as urban retreats where people seek peace with their coffee and book.

How urban spaces perform during disease outbreaks now also demands our close attention.

What is urbanity and why does it matter?

Urban spaces are where communities come together. Urban planners and designers strive to generate a sense of belonging that makes people choose certain areas of a city or even a city itself. Urbanity refers to the public life that happens as a result of the exchanges and communication each space enables.

The combination of diversity and density achieve urbanity – it’s a product of diverse social opportunities in close proximity. This is why densifying cities has been a goal for achieving healthy, social and prosperous cities.

However, the risks of COVID-19 transmission have strengthened anti-density discourses. It is worth remembering, then, that ways of fighting disease, such as sanitation, were only possible because of the financial savings and infrastructure efficiencies enabled by denser cities. Density done right is safe. And it permits the human interactions and connections we need – and which we are now missing.

Once COVID-19 is less of a threat we will crave the normality of going back to our old lifestyles as much as possible. The role of urban planners and designers is then to create a background for public life to happen in social and healthy ways.

Learning from other disasters

Following the 2011 earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand, where the CBD lost some 800 buildings, the community took a very different view of urban spaces. Crowded areas and tall buildings were a source of fear. The common attitude was to avoid density – what if another earthquake hit?




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Urban designers and decision-makers learned that buildings and public spaces had to respond differently. Safe pop-up areas started to emerge. This new normal made some old quiet cafés and public open spaces resilient, while other pop-ups become popular retreat areas. These urban retreat areas were away from streets and tall buildings, and so offered a way of “being there” and being safe.

A park-like retreat space on South Colombo Street, Christchurch.
Silvia Tavares, Author provided

Both the Christchurch earthquake and coronavirus have made people cautious about their safety in the city – because of their proximity to surrounding buildings and to other users of the space, respectively. Christchurch teaches us a lesson about “being together but apart”: cities are not made only of social spaces, and not all residents want the same thing.

People need choice in their use of urban spaces to feel secure and be safe. While larger social spaces are vibrant, support public transport and local economies, urban retreat spaces apply the idea of prospect and refuge: they meet our psychological needs to observe and be part of the public space (prospect) while feeling safe and removed from the scene (refuge).

Post-quake Christchurch showed how the social character and dynamics of urban spaces influenced the people these spaces attracted and how they behaved there.




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Designing spaces with microclimates in mind

Another factor to consider is the influence of urban microclimates on the use and prosperity of public spaces.

The main activity of large urban social spaces is based upon the presence of people, social interaction and cultural exchange. The use and dynamics of these spaces are more predictable and consistent than for urban retreat spaces. Being close to transport or commercial uses often means weather conditions have less impact on social activity and interaction.

Shops along the street add to the local urbanity of Cashel Mall, Christchurch.
Silvia Tavares, Author provided

When looking for peaceful experiences and personal space, however, people tend to choose urban retreat spaces. Here they have less tolerance of adverse conditions. The place itself is the attraction, so the microclimate and personal comfort are more significant factors in its use.

Understanding, harnessing and managing microclimate, sunlight and ventilation is a clear and known approach to fighting disease and to establishing safe and resilient urban spaces. Offering people choice in the ways they interact with their urban environments, while long considered important, is now essential.




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Broad engagement is essential to get it right

Redesigning our urban spaces to reassure users of their safety and provide community choice is not a straightforward process. Designs for the different forms and locations of urban retreat spaces must acknowledge community diversity and optimise microclimate.

While right now we might just want to hold on to all the good things we had pre-coronavirus, the nuances generated by the work of urban planners and designers are likely to make our lives safer. However, our responses cannot simply be reactive interventions such as warning signs, fencing, wider pathways and the like. Such approaches ultimately have implications for equity and quality of life.

We have long had a reactive, piecemeal approach to urban design and development. The current disaster presents an opportunity to establish safe, resilient and healthy urban spaces. It requires meaningful engagement across communities, designers and decision-makers now, before collective amnesia about COVID-19 sets in and we go back to business as usual.The Conversation

Silvia Tavares, Lecturer and Researcher, Urban Design and Town Planning, University of the Sunshine Coast and Nicholas Stevens, Senior Lecturer and Researcher, Land Use Planning & Urban Design, University of the Sunshine Coast

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

We can’t let coronavirus kill our cities. Here’s how we can save urban life



Twitter/@br19800

Jonathan Daly, RMIT University; Kim Dovey, University of Melbourne, and Quentin Stevens, RMIT University

The COVID-19 pandemic restrictions have reminded us of the vital role public space plays in supporting our physical and mental well-being. We need to move, to feel sunlight and fresh air, and to see, talk and even sing to other people.

Lockdowns and “social distancing” have limited our participation in public life and public space. As a result, cities around the world are reporting declines in health and well-being. We are seeing increases in depression, domestic violence, relationship breakdowns and divorces.




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What about the well-being of our cities? Avoiding walking and public transport in favour of cars could kill cities.

The trajectory of the pandemic suggests physical distancing could remain in place for some time. The subtle “step and slide” that people ordinarily use to negotiate their way through crowded urban spaces has given way to the very blunt act of “stop and cross”, as people try to avoid one another on footpaths that are too narrow.

We need to act swiftly to retrofit our public spaces so they are both safe and support social activity. Our goal must be to avoid a long-term legacy where people fear cities and other people. This is where approaches known as temporary and tactical urbanism come in as a way to quickly reconfigure public spaces to create places that are both safe and social.

As COVID-19’s impacts on public life become more evident, so has the abundance of street space left vacant by the substantial drop in vehicle traffic. Recognising this opportunity, cities around the world have begun repurposing street spaces for people.

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Brunswick Street, Melbourne, as it is now and with proposed added space for walking and riding bikes (click on and drag the slider to compare images). Original image: David Hannah. Photoshopped image: Gianfranco Valverde/City of Melbourne. Author provided.

A global public space revolution?

Leading urban theorists, such as Jane Jacobs and Richard Sennett, have long argued that social interaction is the lifeblood of cities. The COVID-19 pandemic can be seen as an attack on urbanity itself.




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But social/physical distancing should not preclude social interaction. Major cities around the world are responding by reclaiming street spaces for people to safely walk and cycle. They are acting quickly, because the need to increase public space for people is more urgent than ever.

How can this be done? After all, urban design proposals usually take months or years to realise. Tactical urbanism approaches overcome this by drawing on a palette of low-cost, widely available and flexible materials, objects and structures to quickly create new forms of public space.

In London, Berlin, Bogota, Philadelphia, Minneapolis, Vancouver, Mexico City and Milan, paint and traffic cones are being used to create bike lanes. In Dublin, parking spaces and loading bays are being reclaimed in the city centre to provide more space for pedestrians. At a national level, New Zealand has created a tactical urbanism fund for emergency bike lanes and footpath widening.

So what’s happening in Australia? Not much at present. Yet we face the same problems, prompting calls for urgent action to reclaim public space for walking and cycling.




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Despite this, there has been little examination of locally specific design and implementation approaches that can rapidly deliver the urban spaces people need right now.

Making it happen

Temporary and tactical urbanism isn’t new to Australia. We’ve been doing it since the 1980s when Melbourne’s Swanston Street was transformed into a green oasis overnight. This helped to reimagine the city centre as a place designed for people, which shaped its long-term social and economic regeneration.

The Greening of Swanston Street in 1985.
Victorian Ministry of Planning



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This, and other more recent projects, have proven temporary and tactical urbanism adds value beyond physical activity and social interaction. Successful schemes can increase the vitality of streets and neighbourhoods, engage local communities and enhance a local sense of place.

Social enterprises and community groups are well placed to deliver such projects, because of their enthusiasm, agility and local networks. Governments also have a crucial role in enabling other actors and maximising public benefits. Every weekday between midday and 2pm, the City of Melbourne temporarily closes Little Collins Street between Swanston and Elizabeth streets with a removable bollard, giving over the street to pedestrians – it’s that easy!

Little Collins Street already becomes a place for pedestrians at lunchtime.
City of Melbourne. Author provided., Author provided

Our cities’ urban spaces are full of such potential for greater flexibility, experimentation and innovation. For example, on-street parking can easily be converted into spaces for socialising and outdoor dining. A vacant space can become an outdoor cinema.

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Elizabeth Street, Melbourne, as it is now and with added space for walking and riding bikes. Original image: Google Street View. Photoshopped image: Audrey Lopez. Author provided.

Temporary or permanent?

The COVID-19 pandemic and its associated restrictions have created an epic social experiment on a global scale. We argue that urbanity itself is at stake. What will cities be without the social interactions that enable us to exchange ideas, opinions, values and knowledge?

Can we afford to go back to the cities designed for cars that we have spent decades reshaping for people? If we don’t act now, the social life of cities that sustains our economy, creativity and culture is at risk.

We need to counter the social impacts of COVID-19 by experimenting at the micro scale of public space. Temporary and tactical urbanism offers simple, low-cost and agile solutions. We should act quickly to make streets safe and sociable during this crisis. The long-term health of people and cities depends on it.The Conversation

Jonathan Daly, Researcher, School of Architecture and Urban Design, RMIT University; Kim Dovey, Professor of Architecture and Urban Design, University of Melbourne, and Quentin Stevens, Associate Professor, School of Architecture and Urban Design, RMIT University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

If more of us work from home after coronavirus we’ll need to rethink city planning



Halfpoint/Shutterstock

John L Hopkins, Swinburne University of Technology

We have seen an unprecedented rise in the number of people working from home as directed by governments and employers around the world to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

If, as some expect, people are likely to work from home more often after the pandemic, what will this mean for infrastructure planning? Will cities still need all the multibillion-dollar road, public transport, telecommunications and energy projects, including some already in the pipeline?




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World’s largest work-from-home experiment

Remote working was steadily on the rise well before COVID-19. But the pandemic suddenly escalated the trend into the “world’s largest work-from-home experiment”. Many people who have had to embrace remote working during the pandemic might not want to return to the office every day once restrictions are lifted.

They might have found some work tasks are actually easier to do at home. Or they (and their employers) might have discovered things that weren’t thought possible to do from home are possible. They might then question why they had to go into the workplace so often in the first place.

But what impact will this have on our cities? After all, many aspects of our cities were designed with commuting, not working from home, in mind.




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Stress test for NBN and energy networks

From a telecommunications perspective, the huge increase in people working from home challenges the ways in which our existing networks were designed.

Data from Aussie Broadband show evening peak broadband use has increased 25% during the shutdown. Additional daytime increases are expected due to home schooling with term 2 starting.

Research by the then federal Department of Communications in 2018 estimated the average Australian household would need a maximum download speed of 49Mbps during peak-use times by 2026. If more people work from home after COVID-19, the size and times of peak use might need to be recalculated.

Another factor not modelled by the government research was the potential impact of an increase in uploads. This is a typical requirement for people working from home, as they now send large files via their suburban home networks, rather than their office networks in the city.




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Recent research by Octopus Energy in the UK has found domestic energy use patterns have also changed since COVID-19. With more people working from home, domestic energy use in the middle of the day is noticeably higher. Some 30% of customers use an average of 1.5kWh more electricity between 9am and 5pm.

Conversely, data from the US show electricity use in city centres and industrial areas has declined over the same period.

Less commuting means less congestion

Closer to home, new data from HERE Technologies illustrate just how much traffic congestion has eased.

Thursday afternoons from 5-5.15pm are normally the worst time of the week for traffic congestion in Melbourne. Last week the city’s roads recorded the sort of free-flowing traffic usually seen at 9.30am on a Sunday. Just 1.8% of Melbourne’s major roads were congested, a fraction of the usual 19.8% at that time.

All of Australia’s major cities are experiencing similar reductions. Transurban has reported traffic is down 43% on the Melbourne airport toll road, 29% on its Sydney roads and 27% in Queensland.

Passengers are also staying away from public transport in droves. For example, South Australian government statistics for Adelaide show passenger numbers have slumped by 69% for buses, by 74% for trains and by 77% for trams, compared with this time last year.




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What does this mean for infrastructure planning?

With these trends in mind, future investment in roads, public transport, energy and telecommunications will need to consider the likelihood of more people working from home.

Prior to COVID-19, Melbourne research found 64% of city workers regularly worked from home, but usually only one day a week, even though 50% of their work could be done anywhere. While the changes we are now seeing are a result of extreme circumstances, it is not inconceivable that, on average, everybody could continue to work from home one extra day per week after the pandemic. Even this would have significant implications for long-term urban planning.

The most recent Australian Census data show 9.2 million people typically commute to work each day. If people worked from home an average of one extra day per week, this would take 1.8 million commuters off the roads and public transport each day.

Many road and public transport projects will be based on forecasts of continuing increases in commuter numbers. If, instead, people work from home more often, this could call into question the need for those projects.

Areas outside city centres would also require more attention, as working from home creates a need for more evenly distributed networks of services for the likes of energy and telecommunications. Interestingly, such a trend could support long-term decentralisation plans, like those outlined in Melbourne’s Metropolitan Planning Strategy. And if such change encourages more people to live away from the big cities, it also could help to make housing more affordable.




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The Conversation


John L Hopkins, Innovation Fellow, Swinburne University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Reconnecting after coronavirus – 4 key ways cities can counter anxiety and loneliness



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Roger Patulny, University of Wollongong; Jordan McKenzie, University of Wollongong; Marlee Bower, University of Sydney, and Rebecca E. Olson, The University of Queensland

COVID-19 has forced us into social distancing, isolation and quarantine. These conditions are likely fostering widespread anxiety and loneliness in our cities. However, they’ve also made the need for socially connected, vibrant public spaces obvious to all.

We offer four strategies for rebuilding social connectivity and emotional well-being in our cities, once restrictions are lifted.




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Is your mental health deteriorating during the coronavirus pandemic? Here’s what to look out for


Changing the emotional climate

Enforced distancing measures are probably changing not just our work, travel and family routines, but how we interact with others and how we feel about ourselves and our communities.

Loneliness is bad for your health and is likely on the rise. There is no guarantee the pandemic-driven shift towards more digital communication will compensate for the lost emotional closeness of in-person contact.

As loneliness becomes more common, it creates a change in what sociologists refer to as “emotional climates” – the collective feelings experienced and shared by most people within a given city or society. A “mass emotional event” like COVID-19 can dramatically alter the emotional climate. It’s so disruptive that it leads to a permanent change in everyday emotional states, expressions and social interactions.




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Designing cities to counter loneliness? Let’s explore the possibilities


COVID-19 has strong potential to make us not only lonelier, but more distrustful, fearful, anxious and angry. The emerging evidence of this includes: panic buying of goods; abuse and stigma of “risky” carers such as health workers; and potential increases in domestic violence and animal cruelty.

It has even been suggested we are collectively processing and moving through the stages of mass grief.

It’s important to remedy negative emotional climates with strategies to reconnect communities, allay fears and better prepare us for any future shutdowns. We can even aim to promote positive emotional climates and “kindness pandemics”.

4 ways to build better communities

COVID-19 is an opportunity to build on what we know and to learn from this situation. It’s possible to promote social and emotional well-being. We suggest four key approaches for building better communities that do this.

1) Design walkable, social, flexible public spaces

Recent work-from-home practices have reduced car traffic by up to 50% on arterial roads. However, they have also prompted cabin fever and a craving for exercise and social contact.

Cities and suburbs should be redesigned to support physical and social activity and mental health. We need a greater emphasis on cycle- and pedestrian-friendly spaces. There should also be renewed focus on building walkable town centres and neighbourhood high streets, rather than continuing with car-dependent suburban sprawl.

Recent examples of innovative and flexible use of space by business are inspiring. Whether cafes become corner stores, pubs sell takeaway cocktails, parks become gyms, or car parks become pop-up businesses, flexible use of space should become commonplace.




Read more:
Coronavirus reminds us how liveable neighbourhoods matter for our well-being


2) Integrate public and online spaces

Our new online communication skills can help us develop a better physical-digital interface for bringing people together.

Video conferencing is flexible and can enable long-distance connection and “work from home” hubs. However, social media platforms, such as Facebook, Meetup, WhatsApp or art-based apps like Somebody, are useful for organising physical meetings too. These can can help with community volunteering, socialising, or simply sharing guerrilla-garden herbs for local cooking.

A better physical-digital interface could help new jobs flourish in “interactive” creative industries that virtually connect isolated individuals. New art spaces could be established, putting connective digital infrastructure, such as audio-visual platforms, within physical spaces to help face-to-face and virtual audiences interact.




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3) Provide quality housing

COVID-19 has exposed the vast variability in the quality of Australian housing. Many homes lack the space to accommodate work, study, relaxation, exercise and socialising, or spaces where people can seek privacy and quiet. Housing also varies in its access to fresh air, light, temperature control and healthy green spaces.

Designing future homes with these needs and features in mind should be a priority.

4) Build with different needs and stigma in mind

The impacts of COVID-19 will not be felt equally. Post-COVID-19 cities should take this into account.

COVID-19 has exposed the vulnerability of people experiencing homelessness. It has also greatly increased the risk of loneliness for the one in four Australians who live alone. This applies particularly to older Australians with a mobility impairment.

The pandemic has also highlighted the safety risks of centralised living arrangements like nursing homes.

We must prioritise the creation of housing that reduces isolation and promotes social connection.




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Recent positive public conversations on social media and within the arts community on previously stigmatised emotions like loneliness and anxiety will help keep these concerns on the public agenda.The Conversation

Roger Patulny, Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Wollongong; Jordan McKenzie, Senior Lecturer in Sociology, University of Wollongong; Marlee Bower, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Matilda Centre for Research in Mental Health and Substance Use, University of Sydney, and Rebecca E. Olson, Senior Lecturer, School of Social Science, The University of Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Coronavirus reminds us how liveable neighbourhoods matter for our well-being



Chanan Greenblatt/Unsplash

Melanie Davern, RMIT University; Billie Giles-Corti, RMIT University; Hannah Badland, RMIT University, and Lucy Gunn, RMIT University

We are witnessing changes in the ways we use our cities in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The liveability of our local neighbourhoods has never been more important.

Right now, we are working together to flatten the curve by staying home to control the spread of COVID-19 and reduce demand on health services. This means spending a lot more time at home and in our local neighbourhoods. We are all finding out about the strengths and weaknesses in the liveability of our neighbourhoods.

This experience can teach us some lessons about how to live and plan our communities in the future. A liveable neighbourhood promotes good health and social cohesion, both now and after this pandemic passes.




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Heavy use of local open space

Anybody who has left their home in the past few weeks will have noticed more people are using local streets and public open spaces. Parks and other public spaces are more popular than ever. Some are becoming too crowded for comfort.

Accessible public space is a key ingredient of healthy and liveable places. Public green spaces provide multiple benefits for mental and physical health, urban cooling, biodiversity, air pollution and stormwater runoff as identified in a previous review for the Heart Foundation.

Access to local public open spaces has become even more important as the current need to stay home adds to the impacts of increased density in the form of smaller houses, lot sizes and apartment living. Yet not everyone has access to local parks.




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Higher-density cities need greening to stay healthy and liveable


We looked at neighbourhood access to public open space using our liveability indicators included in the Australian Urban Observatory. Not all neighbourhoods have access to public open space within 400 metres. We see this in neighbourhoods just north of the beach in North Bondi, Sydney, as the liveability map below shows.

Residents of neighbourhoods north of Bondi Beach in Sydney lack good access to nearby public open space.
Australian Urban Observatory, Author provided

We found a similar pattern in neighbourhoods of St Kilda East in Melbourne. It’s a pattern repeated in many neighbourhoods across cities in Australia.

Private green spaces and backyards are also being appreciated more than ever. Many people are rushing to plant fruits and vegetables at home.

The private green spaces and biodiversity found in backyards are important influences on subjective well-being. Connecting with nature in the garden is a great way to support mental health.




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Dogs are also enjoying more time with their owners in local green spaces and pet ownership is increasing. Office video conferences often feature furry friends at home. Let’s hope the increase in pet adoptions helps people cope with social distancing but also provides the animals with good long-term homes.

Fewer cars, more cycling and walking

Reduced car traffic is making local streets safer and more usable for residents.
Tony Bowler/Shutterstock

One of the noticeable differences in our cities right now is the reduced car traffic in typically busy neighbourhoods where more people (including children) are out on bicycles and walking. Walkable environments with paths and cycleways are providing supportive and safe spaces for both recreational physical activity and for getting to places such as local shops and supermarkets and offices without unnecessary exposure to other people.

The benefits are greatest for people living in high-amenity walkable areas with access to such places within 800 metres. Having services and facilities close by has been shown to support walking for transport to shops and services, promote health and reduce non-communicable diseases such as heart attacks and strokes.

However, our new lives during this pandemic also highlight inequities in local access to health, community and social services. Research shows access to these services is poorer in the low-density outer suburbs that are common across Australian cities.




Read more:
The average regional city resident lacks good access to two-thirds of community services, and liveability suffers


Better air quality

Reduced car traffic and industrial emissions are undoubtedly improving air quality in our cities. In 2018, the World Health Organisation declared air quality was the “new smoking” as it increases respiratory problems and cardiovascular disease. The transport sector also contributes about 25% of global carbon dioxide emissions .

Homes, schools and care facilities located within 300 metres of major roads are more exposed to air pollution and risk of disease. Those risks are likely to have decreased during the COVID-19 crisis.

At the moment, many of us are living and shopping locally and enjoying the co-benefits of the “slow walkable city”: less traffic, more active modes of transport, better air quality and less noise.




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Valuing social cohesion

Loneliness is a serious public health problem. It causes premature deaths on a scale similar to that of smoking or obesity.

Pre-pandemic lifestyles involved time-poor people travelling widely to destinations for employment, education, recreation, socialising and extracurricular activities. The suburbs were places of much social isolation.

With these activities now reined in, are we are seeing a rise in neighbourhood social connections due to people staying at home? Anecdotally, yes. It’s emerging through new or reinvigorated conversations with neighbours, support and sharing of goods (toilet paper anyone?), and coordinated neighbourhood support systems, such as WhatsApp groups and neighbourhood happy hours. Across the world, we can see this sense of neighbourhood belonging in the form of bear hunts and rainbow chalk drawings.

It is well documented that feeling part of the community is good for your mental health. Local support networks become even more important and valued during crises such as COVID-19.

These are just some of the more obvious reflections about the liveability of our neighbourhoods as we stay home to help contain the spread of COVID-19. No doubt there will be many more lessons to come that we need to remember and act on after the pandemic passes.The Conversation

Melanie Davern, Senior Research Fellow, Director Australian Urban Observatory, Co-Director Healthy Liveable Cities Group, Centre for Urban Research, RMIT University; Billie Giles-Corti, Director, Urban Futures Enabling Capability Platform and Director, Healthy Liveable Cities Group, RMIT University; Hannah Badland, Principal Research Fellow, Centre for Urban Research, RMIT University, and Lucy Gunn, Research Fellow, Healthy Liveable Cities Group, Centre for Urban Research, RMIT University, RMIT University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

After another hot summer, here are 6 ways to cool our cities in future



Nigel Jarvis/Shutterstock

Komali Yenneti, University of Melbourne

Australia is a “land of climate extremes”. This is especially true for our cities, which have become hubs of extreme summer temperatures. This past summer was the second-hottest on record for Australia, following the 2018-19 record, with average maximum temperatures more than 2°C above the long-term average.

Frequent and long heatwaves are having serious impacts on energy consumption, public health, labour productivity and the economy.




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Even without global warming, cities already face a problem — the urban heat island effect, whereby inner urban areas are hotter than the surrounding rural areas. Urban heat islands are caused by factors such as pollution, energy consumption, industrial activities, large dark concrete buildings, asphalt roads and closely spaced structures.

Evidence from Australia’s major cities shows average temperatures are 2-10°C higher in highly urbanised areas than in their rural surroundings.




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Governments and policymakers can use a variety of cooling strategies combined with community engagement, education and adaptation measures to cool Australian cities.

1. Green infrastructure

Green infrastructure includes parks, street trees, community gardens, green roofs and vertical gardens. In tropical and subtropical climate zones, like much of Australia, green infrastructure is a cost-effective cooling strategy.




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Evidence suggests a 10% increase in tree canopy cover can lower afternoon ambient temperatures by as much as 1-1.5C, as the chart below shows. Similarly, in parks with adequate irrigation ambient temperatures can be 1-1.5°C lower than nearby unvegetated or built-up areas.

Maximum (above) and average (below) temperature reduction potential of different urban greenery techniques.
Komali Yenneti et al, Author provided

We can increase street tree canopy cover by planting more shade trees on footpaths, lanes and street medians. Where there is little space for parks and street trees, green roofs and walls may be viable options.




Read more:
Here’s how green infrastructure can easily be added to the urban planning toolkit


2. Water-sensitive urban design

The use of water as a way to cool cities has been known for thousands of years. Water-based landscapes such as rivers, lakes, wetlands and bioswales can reduce urban ambient temperatures by 1-2°C. This is a result of water heat retention and evaporative cooling.

In addition to natural water bodies, various other water-based technologies are now available for both decorative and climatic reasons. Examples include passive water systems, like ponds, pools and fountains, and active or hybrid systems, such as evaporative wind towers and sprinklers. Active and passive systems can decrease ambient temperatures by 3-8°C, as the charts below show.

Maximum (above) and average (below) temperature reduction potential of different active and passive water systems.
Komali Yenneti et al, Author provided

Water-based systems are usually combined with green infrastructure to enhance urban cooling, improve air quality, aid in flood management and provide attractive public spaces.




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3. Cool materials

Building materials are major contributors to the urban heat island effect. The use of cool materials on roofs, streets and pavements is an important cooling strategy. A cool surface material has low heat conductivity, low heat capacity, high solar reflectance and high permeability.

Evidence suggests that using cool materials for roofs and facades can reduce indoor temperature by 2-5°C, improve indoor comfort and cut energy use.

Maximum (above) and average (below) temperature reduction potential of different cool surfaces.
Komali Yenneti et al, Author provided

Cool materials commonly applied to buildings include white paints, elastomeric, acrylic or polyurethane coating, ethylene propylenediene tetrolymer membrane, chlorinated polyethylene, polyvinyl chloride, thermoplastic polyolefin, and chlorosulfonated polyethylene.

Lighter aggregates and binders in asphalt and concrete, permeable pavers made from foam concrete, permeable asphalt and resin concrete are standard cool pavement materials.




Read more:
Building cool cities for a hot future


4. Shading

Shading can decrease radiant temperature and greatly improve outdoor thermal comfort. Providing shading on streets, building entries and public venues using greenery, artificial structures or a combination of both can block solar radiation and increase outdoor thermal comfort. Examples of artificial structures include temporary shades, sunshades and shades using solar panels.




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5. Combined cooling strategies

Performance analysis of various projects in Australia suggests the cooling potential of the combined use of the different strategies discussed above is much higher than the sum of the contributions of each individual technology, as the charts below show. The average maximum temperature reduction with just one technology is close to 1.5°C. When two or more technologies are used together the reduction exceeds 2.5°C.

Maximum (above) and average (below) temperature reduction potential for a combination of technologies.
Komali Yenneti et al, Author provided

The chart below shows the peak temperature reduction for all cooling strategies.


Komali Yenneti et al, Author provided

6. Behaviour changes

People are significant contributors to urban heat through their use of air conditioning. The waste heat from air conditioners heats up surrounding outdoor spaces.

Projections show cooling demand in Australian cities may increase by up to 275% by 2050. Such a trend will have a great impact on urban climate, as well as increasing electricity use. If this is powered by fossil fuels, it will add billions of tons of carbon pollution.

Climate-responsive building design and adaptive design techniques in existing buildings can minimise occupants’ demand for cooling energy by reducing indoor and outdoor temperatures.




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Cities must take a holistic, long-term approach

Local governments can prepare for and respond to heat events through emergency response plans. However, emergency responses alone cannot address other challenges of urban heat, including human vulnerability, energy disruptions and the economic costs of lower workplace productivity and infrastructure failures.

Long-term cooling strategies are needed to keep city residents, buildings and communities cool and save energy, health and economic costs.The Conversation

Komali Yenneti, Honorary Academic Fellow, Australia India Institute, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How drought is affecting water supply in Australia’s capital cities


Ian Wright, Western Sydney University and Jason Reynolds, Western Sydney University

The level of water stored by Australia’s capital cities has steadily fallen over the last six years. They are now collectively at 54.6% of capacity – a decline of 30% from 2013.

We’re going into a hot summer and Sydney has just announced level 2 restrictions, the toughest for any capital. Data from the Bureau of Meteorology shows other capital cities facing mixed results.

The results show that Darwin’s water supply has lost about 25% over the last year. On the plus side, Melbourne’s supply actually increased over 2019, having fallen below 50% earlier this year, and now sits on 63.9%.

While the national average is trending downwards, the patterns for each city are very different. Sydney and Perth water supplies have had contrasting journeys over the last six years. In October 2013 Perth’s supply was a very low 33.8% and Sydney was a comfortable 91%.

Now, for the first time in many years Perth does not have Australia’s lowest level of all capital city water storages. As of last week, Sydney has taken this unwanted distinction from Perth.

For Perth residents, the news is good as their surface water storages are at a six-year high of 46.4%. In Sydney they are worried, as they have a six-year low of 46.2%.

Sydney has experienced a steep decline over the last 30 months, from nearly full storages (96%) in April 2017. The speed and severity of the Sydney drought is starting to resemble previous dry spells. One was in the 1940s and the other was the Millennium drought.

Perth has lived with the most water stress of any capital city. They have had to contend with a steady 45-year decline in rain. The inflow of water into Perth’s dams has also fallen dramatically.

Perth has adapted to its drying climate by sourcing water from many different supplies. It now uses its surface water storages for about 10% of its water supply. Much larger proportions of Perth’s supply comes from its two desalination plants, which unlike the other capitals are constantly in operation. It makes greater use of groundwater and highly treated recycled water. Perth also has permanent water restrictions.

Sydney’s desalination plant, after hibernating for 7 years, is now supplying water. It was switched on in late January 2019 when Sydney supply hit 60%, and can supply 15% of water demand. Unusually perhaps, the desalinated water does not reach all parts of Sydney.

Sydney Water has announced plans to double the capacity of the desalination plant. Construction is expected to begin soon.

Melbourne and Brisbane water supplies are currently at similar levels. However, since 2013 Melbourne’s storages have generally been lower than Brisbane’s. Melbourne’s supply has risen in 2019 after good winter rainfall in its catchments. The storages have increased from under 50% (49.6%) in late May 2019. Today, Brisbane storage levels are now at 59.2%.

Melbourne residents use less water than the other capital cities. In 2018 the average Melbourne resident used 161 litres per day, approximately 30% less than Sydney residents.

Melbourne’s supplies have also been supplemented with the reactivation of its Wonthaggi desalination plant in 2019. It is Australia’s largest desalination plant, capable of producing 410 million litres a day.




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Brisbane also built a desalination plant after the Millennium Drought. In addition, they also made very large investments in Australia’s largest waste water recycling scheme. The Western Corridor recycled water scheme opened in 2008, cost $2.5 billion and features three advanced waste water treatment plants, with more than 200 km of pipelines and three advanced waste water treatment plants.

Hobart, Darwin and Canberra are the three Australian capital cities without desalination plants. Canberra has had a steady decline in its supply over three years. It was full in October 2016, gradually dropping to 51.6% in November 2019. Hobart’s storages were above 80% for most of the last six years. They were just above 90% 12 months ago and have since fallen to their current level of 72%.




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Darwin’s water supply was full as recently as April 2018. Now, 18 months later, it is just touching 54%. This is its lowest level in six years. Darwin, our tropical capital, has the most seasonal rainfall of Australia’s capitals. Typically, they have almost no rain June to September during their dry season, and a wet season of heavy rains from October to April.
However, the last wet season was one of the driest on record.

Adelaide’s water storage has fluctuated over the last 6 years. Adelaide gets more rain in winter and has dry summers, an opposite pattern to that of Darwin. Over the last 3 years the level has dropped from over 97% in October 2017 to just below 58%.




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The desalination plant in Adelaide can supply up to 50% of its water supply. It has been operating in 2019, although not in the wetter months of July and August. The Murray also continues to supply a large proportion of Adelaide’s water supply. The Commonwealth has agreed to use drought funding for the Adelaide desalination plant, so more river water can be used by farmers upstream to grow fodder for livestock.

Australia is set for a dryer and hotter summer than average, particularly in the east. Coupled with continued high levels of household demand, we can expect further declines in water storage levels through the first half of 2020.The Conversation

Ian Wright, Senior Lecturer in Environmental Science, Western Sydney University and Jason Reynolds, Research Lecturer in Geochemistry, Western Sydney University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.